Paul O'Connell pinpoints the year and team that kickstarted a golden generation for Irish rugby
Paul O'Connell has pinpointed the Munster team who narrowly lost the Heineken Cup final in 2000 as being instrumental in changing the path of Irish rugby.
Munster were beaten 9-8 by the Northampton Saints in Twickhenham, but it was that group of players who "flicked a switch", according to former Ireland and Munster captain O'Connell.
"Every group now seems to be better than the last. I mean, I think the 1999/2000, that Munster team ..obviously I'm Munster-biased, but that Munster team was probably the real big start of it for me," said O'Connell on this week's episode of The Left Wing, in association with Aldi.
"They created..by the time I came into Munster in 2001, you kind of expected to win and I was going to be part of that Heineken Cup-winning team any year.
"Whereas if you played for Munster three years before that they were getting beaten by 60 points in Toulouse.
"So some of the guys who played on that team never got to win a European Cup medal for Munster but they actually did something a lot harder in that they changed the culture, or they flicked the switch and created something."
With Heineken Cup matches involving Irish provinces regularly sold out, O'Connell was quick to point out that back then it was tough to get bums on seats.
"I remember going to watch Donnchadh O'Callaghan playing for Munster in Garryowen against Ulster in an inter-pro game – there was about 400 people at it," added O'Connell.
"Nowadays we have massive crowds at the games. So that group really flicked the switch. Gatland, around then as well, started with the Irish team. That test against Scotland where he brought in five first caps. It's been on an upward curve ever since. And it has been, I think, slow and steady at times but it's pretty meteoric at times as well.
"The more I am involved with rugby now, the more I look back at some of the things that happened. Eddie O'Sullivan never won a Championship or never won a Grand Slam but he did incredible things for us in terms of changing habits and professionalism."
The Left Wing podcast is in association with Aldi.
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